(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.

Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work. 

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school. 

“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”

The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. 

The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected.

In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions.

A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.”

Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing to chronic poverty and, as a result, child labor.

A 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul said, “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine. When your nail gets hit by a hammer or caught in the machine, it becomes black and eventually falls off.”

Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table. The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

While work that is appropriate to a child’s age and under healthy and safe conditions can be beneficial to the child’s development and allow them to contribute to their family’s basic needs, work that interferes with a child’s education, or is likely to jeopardize their health or safety, is generally considered “child labor” and is prohibited under international law.

Although pilot projects extending community-based schools to reach vulnerable children have been promising, support for these schools is inadequate to the need. Eradicating child labor in Afghanistan is not feasible so long as extreme poverty continues, but the government and its donors can take steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Those steps include increasing the number of labor inspectors to adequately cover the entire country; giving priority to monitoring hazardous sectors; and offering the Afghan government targeted technical assistance in devising and implementing policies, standards, and regulations against child labor. Both the government and its foreign donors should devote more resources to expanding educational support to all working children.

The government has a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor. Both Afghanistan and its foreign donors should take urgent steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

“When children are of legal age and work in safe conditions, they can help provide vital livelihood support for many Afghan families,” Kine said. “But the Afghan government has an obligation to enforce the laws that protect children in the workplace, and ensure that they neither have to sacrifice their education or safety as the price for supporting their families.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zama Neff is the executive director of the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch. She also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Neff has conducted fact-finding investigations and is the author of reports and articles on a range of issues affecting children, including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, the worst forms of child labor, and discrimination against women and girls. She has published on op-ed pages in major international and US publications and speaks regularly to the media. During a sabbatical, she ran a protection monitoring team for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sri Lanka. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1999, Neff clerked for a US federal judge, advocated on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the US, and worked with community development and women's organizations in Honduras. She is a graduate of Davidson College and New York University School of Law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Two boys who were under the care of foster parent Yulia Savinovskikh until August 2017.

© 2017 Yulia Savinovskikh

When Yulia Savinovskikh had a double mastectomy in July, she was aware of the likely physical side effects of the surgery. But she felt the procedure was worth it; after three pregnancies, her breasts were causing her pain and other health problems. What she wasn’t expecting – and the most painful of all – was the removal of two foster children from her care and their placement in an orphanage.

On August 27, without warning, state guardianship agency officials removed two boys, ages 4 and 5, who had been living with Savinovskikh and her husband for three-and-a-half and two years, respectively. One of the children has cerebral palsy; the other has a serious medical condition which requires close supervision.

Guardianship agency officials cited an anonymous complaint about Savinovskikh’s so-called “immoral behavior” and a transgender blog she wrote as among the reasons for the children’s removal. Officials claimed her mastectomy was evidence that she was planning to undergo sex reassignment surgery to transition to male.

Although not citing the law specifically, officials appear to have taken the decision to interfere in Savinovskikh’s private and family life and those of the foster children because of the 2013 discriminatory law banning so-called “gay propaganda” to children, envisaging that after her alleged transition Savinovskikh and her husband would live as a gay couple.

Setting aside the fact that officials had no evidence Savinovskikh planned to transition, any such decision she might have taken would have no bearing on her fitness as a parent.

Savinovskikh was in the process of adopting the children when officials placed them in an orphanage for children with disabilities. Human Rights Watch has documented serious abuse and neglect of children with disabilities in Russian state orphanages and has called on the government to ensure that whenever possible children can enjoy their right to grow up in families, like Savinovskikh’s.

In September, Savinovskikh unsuccessfully appealed to the Ministry of Social Policy to bring the children back home with her.

A November 14 report by the Russian Civic Chamber, a citizens’ consultative body, criticized the guardianship agency officials’ actions as “lacking proper evidence” to merit removing the children and recommended they be returned, but subject to a psychological evaluation to ensure that Savinovskikh is “mentally fit” to care for the children.

Savinovskikh passed a medical evaluation when she first became a foster parent, and the requirement that she undergo an additional one to prove her suitability to continue to be a successful guardian to children who were wrongly removed from her care is arbitrary, discriminatory, and only compounds the injustice of officials’ actions.

The Russian government should act in the children’s best interests, as human rights law requires them to do, and which the evidence demonstrates is not to have them in an institution but in a family-based environment where they will receive the support and nurturing they need – like they did in Savinovskikh’s care.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A 16-year-old worker harvests tobacco on a farm in Kentucky.

© 2013 Marcus Bleasdale/VII for Human Rights Watch
Working on child labor, it often feels like there isn’t much good news. So when I learned recently about a new policy that could potentially protect millions of children from dangerous work on tobacco farms around the world, I couldn’t quite believe it. With a major change to an industry-wide due diligence program, the Sustainable Tobacco Program (STP), now at least 180 tobacco companies are pledging to prohibit all children under 18 from handling green tobacco on farms in their supply chains.

The STP is used by major multinational manufacturers and leaf dealers as well as other tobacco companies operating in 52 countries, which combined are contracting with hundreds of thousands of farms worldwide.

Why is this potentially great news for kids? My Human Rights Watch colleagues and I have interviewed hundreds of children and their families working in tobacco farming in five countries: Kazakhstan, the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, and Zimbabwe. We have consistently found that many children who handle tobacco are at serious risk of nicotine poisoning, also known as Green Tobacco Sickness, an illness caused by absorption of nicotine through the skin, which can cause vomiting, nausea, dizziness, headaches, loss of appetite, and insomnia. The long-term effects of absorbing nicotine through the skin are unknown; the dangers of nicotine exposure through smoking are well-known and serious.

When we started looking into the dangers for children in tobacco farming, the companies’ approaches to hazardous work for children varied widely, and no company prohibited children from handling green tobacco.

Since 2014, we have called on tobacco companies to prohibit all children from work where they handle tobacco, including dried tobacco, which still contains nicotine. We have spoken to dozens of children – and adults – who faced health problems, such as respiratory issues, when sorting or preparing dried tobacco leaf for selling.

While companies haven’t yet gone far enough in implementing this ban on children working with tobacco, the new requirements could protect millions of children from nicotine poisoning. The policy first came into effect in the most recent tobacco-growing season, so its actual impact is unknown. Training, implementation, and monitoring in a complex global supply chain will be challenging, but achievable. As we continue to investigate conditions for child tobacco workers around the world, I hope my colleagues and I will see this as a real step to ending hazardous child labor.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

“My sister finished the first year at school, but then she got tired and decided to leave. She walked four hours each way every day, so that made her tired,” Sabina, 12, who grew up in rural Balkh province, said. Sabina was able to study starting at age 10 after her family moved to the city of Mazar-i Sharif. Her sister, after leaving school, married at age 15 or 16.

We’d planned a quick investigation about girls’ education in Afghanistan—a snapshot of how things stand 16 years after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban. But 249 interviews later, my colleagues and I had sunk deep into an issue deserving not a snapshot, but a much deeper dive.

Girls sit for lessons on a stairwell inside a school building.  Overcrowding—compounded by the demand for gender segregation—means that schools typically divide their days into two or three shifts, resulting in a school day too short to cover the full curriculum.

© 2017 Paula Bronstein for Human Rights Watch

According to the Afghan government—often criticized for disseminating overly optimistic statistics—3.5 million children are out of school, 85 percent of whom are girls. Our interviewees were mostly girls who have missed out on getting an education, and they had a lot to say.

Many had struggled desperately to study. Others had families who fought for them—moving across town or across the country to find schools, or sending them far away to live with relatives near a school. Some older brothers had made the dangerous trip to work illegally in Iran to send money home for their sisters to study. Entire families conspired to sneak some girls to school daily under the nose of a father opposed to girls’ education.

Girls young enough to be playing with toys knowledgeably discussed Taliban attacks on education, bombings, and the performance of the Afghan army. They told of family members killed and wounded, family members who fled the country for safety, and parents who never recovered from the death of a child. They described their own flight, within the country and across borders, and how that had sabotaged their education.

They described their work—weaving carpets, sewing, embroidery, or running a household—and how that prevented them from studying. Too many described having been married as children, and how marriage or even engagement ended any hopes of an education.

They talked about how the school system had let them down. Many missed school because there was simply no school within reach. Girls and boys usually study separately in Afghanistan, and the government provides fewer schools for girls than boys. In one case, we found a school with several new buildings paid for by international donors where, after the buildings were completed, the government changed it from a mixed gender school to a boys’ school—and moved the female students into a vacant lot next door to study in tents.

Other girls are barred by family from attending because the teachers are men; only half of Afghanistan’s provinces have more than 20 percent female teachers. Again and again girls talked about poverty: Tuition in government schools is free, but the need to pay for pencils, notebooks, schoolbags, and uniforms puts school out of reach for many.

Yet these Afghan girls are fighting every day to study.

Zarifa, 17, went to a class of 30 to 35 girls in her Kabul neighborhood set up by a nongovernmental organization, then transferred to a government school. She said many classmates drifted away. “Very few stayed,” Zarifa said. “Some married, some families didn’t allow them to continue, some had security problems.”

The environment at the government school was difficult. “There are too many students—it’s hard to manage them,” Zarifa said. “There is a lack of chairs, of teachers, of classrooms. It’s too crowded—some study in tents. There is a lack of books. At one time, I had no books.” Six years later, only 8 to 10 of the original 35 girls who started school with her were still studying. “I didn’t allow myself to be taken out,” Zarifa said. “I had promised to stay and finish.”

Some girls had a chance to catch up on missed schooling when an NGO-run community-based education program opened nearby. But these schools came and went with changes in donor funding; within the same family often some sisters were educated and some not, due to the unreliable cycles of funding for NGOs. Integrating these schools in the government education system, with sustainable funding and quality controls, would be a lifeline for many girls.

The research gave us a glimpse of the day-to-day erosion of security. I lived six years in Afghanistan without ever needing to wear a burka, but spent much of this research sweating under one in the summer heat because foreigners being seen visiting could endanger a school’s safety. Some NGOs asked us to stay only a half hour at each site for security reasons. At one school we visited, staff said a man was killed by the Taliban nearby that day, and a boy had been killed the day before. In Kandahar, we interviewed the deputy governor, a respected reformer involved in founding a youth political movement. He was killed in a suicide bombing several months later.

The proportion of students who are girls is falling in some parts of the country. By age 12 to 15, two-thirds of girls are out of school. Only 37 percent of adolescent girls can read, compared to 66 percent of adolescent boys.

International donors are eager to extricate themselves from Afghanistan, but a rushed exit will mean abandoning girls like Sabina and Zarifa. The Afghan government is fighting simply to survive. But there are steps the government can take to help girls learn right now—encourage donor funding for education, ensure access to free primary and secondary education by providing all needed school supplies, hiring and deploying more female teachers, rehabilitating and building new schools, and building on successful models that allow girls to study even amidst war.

Afghanistan’s girls are fighting to learn—they need their government and its donors in their corner. Below see one piece of the project, an eye-opening documentary that we made along with filmmaker Sediqa Mojadidi and photographer Paula Bronstein for Human Rights Watch. In it you’ll see the girls we spoke with and hear them in their own voices, tinged with regret and hopelessness, talking about why they either never went to school or were forced to abandon their education.

“By the time we walked to school, the school day would end.” – Najiba, 15, explaining why she and her eight siblings did not go to school in Daikundi, Mazar-i Sharif, July 2016.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Human Rights Watch writes in advance of the 79th pre-sessional working group of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and its review of Japan’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This submission focuses on children in alternative care; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights and sex education in schools; and the protection of students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict, and relates to Articles 2, 19, 20, 24, 28, 29, and 38 of the CRC. It proposes issues and questions that Committee members may wish to raise with the government.

Children in Alternative Care in Japan (Article 20)

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the over-institutionalization of children in Japan’s “alternative care” system. Around 39,000 children in Japan are currently separated from their parents because authorities have determined that their parents are either unable or unwilling to care for them properly. Japan’s child guidance centers, the local administrative authority that determines the placement of children needing care, remain mostly predisposed to institutionalizing children rather than placing them in adoption or foster care. 

Approximately 85 percent of children in alternative care settings are in child-care institutions, infant care institutions, and similar institutional arrangements. Approximately 15 percent of children in alternative care are cared for by foster parents or adoptive parents. Japan’s foster care system also faces severe problems; the government does not provide foster parents with adequate training, programmatic support, or monitoring. For further details on alternative care in Japan, please see Human Rights Watch’s 2014 report titled Without Dreams: Children in Alternative Care in Japan.[1]

Amendment of the Child Welfare Act

In May 2016, the Japanese Diet, under the leadership of the then-minister of health, labour and welfare, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, passed a groundbreaking amendment to the Child Welfare Act, a significant step in improving Japan’s alternative care system. The amendment for the first time explicitly refers to children as “rights holders.” The Child Welfare Act now lays out a new principle for family-based care, guaranteeing life in a family-setting, including adoption and foster care, for all children. Institutionalization is limited only to cases when family-based care is “not appropriate,” and even in such cases, the law now obligates the placement of children into institutions that can provide “the best possible family-like settings.”[2] 

In June 2017, Japan’s parliament amended the Child Welfare Act again to strengthen the ability of the judicial authorities to intervene more effectively in child abuse cases. The amendment made family court approval necessary for extensions past the initial two-month temporary protection period.[3] However, further reforms are still needed, including judicial review at the time when a child is separated from his or her parents, instead of leaving this decision to local administrators.

“New Vision for Alternative Care” in August 2017

In August 2017, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, under the leadership of the then-Welfare Minister Shiozaki, endorsed a “New Vision for Alternative Care,” which stated that children younger than pre-school age should not be institutionalized, in line with the “family based care” principle in the amendment of the Child Welfare Act in May 2016.[4]

Some of the goals of the New Vision for Alternative Care include: 75 percent of pre-school age children in alternative care will be transitioned to foster care within seven years, and no new pre-school age children will be placed in institutions; within five years, the number of special adoption cases will double to 1,000 cases a year; and a fostering agency structure will be created throughout Japan by 2020.

However, many child care institutions feel their raison d'être is challenged and have reacted negatively to the above goal of 75 percent de-institutionalization. Many of Japan’s municipalities, the main players in the execution of alternative care, have voiced their opposition to this goal as well. Now that Welfare Minister Shiozaki, who had shown strong leadership against such negative reactions, has left office, it remains to be seen whether this goal will be implemented.

In 2017, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare revised its Foster Parent Placement Guidelines after the 2016 amendment to the Child Welfare Act.[5] Currently, 78 percent of child guidance centers state that children are placed in institutions instead of foster care due to the preference of their birth parents.[6] This revision has resulted in some improvements regarding the level of birth parents’ control in the placement of their children. Unfortunately, it fails to explicitly instruct child guidance centers to bring cases to family court when the decision of the birth parents’ is not in the best interests of the child. Instead, the revised Guidelines only instruct child guidance centers to “consider” such legal options. Human Rights Watch is aware of only a few cases in which child guidance centers have resorted to legal recourse to ensure children are placed in foster care and not in institutions.

De-institutionalization requires changes to many systems and practices. One of the most important reforms will be the prompt introduction and improvement of high-quality agencies­­­—which are to be called “fostering agencies”—to provide a comprehensive support structure for foster parents. This system will provide foster parents with ongoing recruitment, training, support, and other necessary services. Organizations that can provide quality support to foster parents are essential for new foster parents, and above all, for children who should be guaranteed high quality foster care without abuse, and placement with foster parents who are able to provide proper care.

Unfortunately, there are not enough organizations in Japan able to provide these services. To increase the number of such organizations, it is critical that both national and local governments provide political support, as well as sufficient funding and other resources, to enable existing child care institutions and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide high-quality foster care support services. The New Vision for Alternative Care calls for developing these support services nationwide by 2020.

The New Vision for Alternative Care suggests not only developing policies for agencies to support foster families, but also establishing a social work structure, developing a third-party evaluation system, and creating a system of advocates for children. It also requires promoting special adoption as an effective solution to assure permanency, foster care system reform, reform of child guidance centers and the temporary custody system, and supporting children’s independence.

Human Rights Watch recommends the Committee ask the government of Japan:

  • How much financial resources will be put into the new fostering agency system?
  • How does the government plan to overcome the current situation whereby institutions have a financial interest against de-institutionalization, as subsidies are allocated to institutions based on the number of institutionalized children?
  • How many pre-school children have been institutionalized since August 2, 2017, when the New Vision for Alternative Care was provided to the Minister of Health, Labour and Welfare? How many pre-school age children have been placed with foster parents or adopted since then?

Human Rights Watch asks the Committee to:

  • Call upon the government of Japan to publicly promise and ensure the swift and effective enforcement of the New Vision for Alternative Care endorsed in August 2017, including the achievement of the 75 percent foster care placement rate within seven years and the assured establishment of fostering agencies.
  • Call upon the government of Japan to amend the Foster Parent Placement Guidelines to clearly instruct child guidance centers to bring cases to family court when the birth parents’ decision on children’s placement is against the best interest of the child, as well as to bring the guidelines completely in line with the UN Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children, which require that institutional care is limited to “cases where such a setting is specifically appropriate, necessary and constructive for the individual child concerned and in his/her best interests.”[7]
  • Call upon the government of Japan to ensure that all foster parents, including kinship-based foster parents and adoptive foster parents, receive adequate training, monitoring, and sufficient financial support for foster parents.

LGBT Rights and Sex Education in Schools (Articles 2, 19, 24, 28, and 29)

Japan has experienced dramatic changes in public attitudes toward LGBT rights over the past few years. Some municipalities now recognize same-sex partnerships, and the national government has taken some steps toward bringing its policies in line with its international human rights obligations. Japan has also emerged as a leader on LGBT rights issues internationally. Japan, along with the United States and the Netherlands, co-chaired a UNESCO conference on LGBT student bullying in 2016, and the Japanese mission to the United Nations represents the government in the UN “Core Group,” a coalition of countries that support LGBT rights initiatives at the UN. Japan supported the 2011 and 2014 Human Rights Council resolutions on ending violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

However, Japan has no legislation protecting LGBT people from discrimination and does not grant legal recognition to same-sex couples. It also treats transgender people requesting legal recognition as having “Gender Identity Disorder” and coerces them into undergoing unnecessary and invasive medical procedures.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has taken some important steps toward protecting LGBT students in Japanese schools. In its April 2016 “Guidebook for Teachers,” the ministry signaled a promising move toward inclusive education, stating: “It is possible that gender identity and sexual orientation are dealt with as part of human rights education.” In March 2017, MEXT revised the Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying to include specific mention of LGBT students for the first time—a major step toward protecting the right to education for LGBT youth in Japan. However, that same month MEXT failed to include information about sexual and gender minority students in its once-in-a-decade review of the national educational curriculum. As a result, the national curriculum still only references heterosexuality.[8] This means that Japan’s elementary school physical education curriculum will continue to instruct teachers to help students understand that “when in puberty…young people develop an interest in the opposite sex.”[9] And the curriculum for junior high school also notes “interest in the opposite sex increases along with the maturation of body functions.”[10]

Law 111 of 2003 (the Gender Identity Disorder Law) contains a number of requirements for transgender people to obtain legal recognition according to their gender identity that violate fundamental human rights protections and affect transgender children. National law mandates adults to obtain a mental disorder diagnosis and other medical procedures, including sterilization, to be legally recognized according to their gender identity–an abusive and outdated procedure. For transgender students in Japan, simply attending school can be an ordeal, and the pressure to conform to strict gender norms in anticipation of undergoing surgical procedures when they are adults severely impacts their lives and mental health.[11]

Human Rights Watch recommends the Committee ask the government of Japan:

  • What steps has the government of Japan taken to revise Law 111 of 2003 (the Gender Identity Disorder Law), to replace abusive procedures such as mandatory sterilization with a system of self-identification criteria for legal gender recognition?
  • What steps has the government of Japan taken to enact legislation prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, including in education?

Human Rights Watch asks the Committee to:

  • Congratulate the government of Japan for adding LGBT students to the Basic Policy for the Prevention of Bullying.
  • Call upon the government of Japan to develop a comprehensive sexuality education program, based on international public health and human rights standards, for primary and secondary education, that includes information about sexual and gender minority students.

Protecting Students, Teachers, and Schools in Situations of Armed Conflict (Articles 28, 38)

Human Rights Watch encourages Japan to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, an international commitment to better protect students, educational staff, schools, and universities during armed conflict.[12] It was drafted through a consultative process led by Norway and Argentina in 2015. The Declaration includes a commitment to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.[13]

In June 2015, at the Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict, Yoshifumi Okamura, the Representative of Japan to the United Nations said:

Japan would like to pay tribute to the efforts made by all stakeholders in drafting the Lucens Guidelines [now known as the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict]. We welcome the fact that the international community’s recognition of the issue of protecting schools and education is expanding. Japan will continue keeping an eye on the development of the discussion on the issue.[14]

As of November 13, 2017, 70 countries—representing more than one-third of all UN member states—have already endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration.

On October 31, 2017, the President of the UN Security Council issued a statement during an open debate on children and armed conflict, indicating that the Security Council, on which Japan is currently a member,

expresses deep concern at the military use of schools in contravention of applicable international law, recognizing that such use may render schools legitimate targets of attack, thus endangering children’s and teachers’ safety as well as children’s education and in this regard … encourages Member States to consider concrete measures to deter the use of schools by armed forces and armed non-State groups in contravention of applicable international law.[15]

Human Rights Watch recommends the Committee ask the government of Japan:

  • What “concrete measures to deter the use of schools by armed forces” has the government of Japan taken?

Human Rights Watch asks the Committee to:

  • Call upon the government of Japan to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration.

[1] Human Rights Watch, Without Dreams: Children in Alternative Care in Japan, May 1, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/05/01/without-dreams/children-alternativ....

[2] Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, “Amendment of the Child Welfare Act - comparison (2016),” art. 3.2, http://www.mhlw.go.jp/topics/bukyoku/soumu/houritu/dl/190-34.pdf (accessed October 30, 2017).

[3] House of Councillors, the National Diet of Japan “Amendment of the Child Welfare Act,” June 2017, http://www.sangiin.go.jp/japanese/joho1/kousei/gian/193/pdf/s03193048193... (accessed October 30, 2017). 

[4] Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, “New Vision for Alternative Care,” August 2, 2017, http://www.mhlw.go.jp/stf/houdou/0000173868.html (accessed October 30, 2017).

[5] Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, “Foster Parent Placement Guidelines,” 2017, http://www.mhlw.go.jp/file/06-Seisakujouhou-11900000-Koyoukintoujidoukat... (accessed November 9, 2017).

[6] National Childhood Counseling Managers, “Child Guidance Centers Survey,” July 1, 2011, http://www.zenjiso.org/816 (accessed November 9, 2017).

[7] UNICEF, “Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children,” February 10, 2010,  http://www.unicef.org/protection/alternative_care_Guidelines-English.pdf (accessed November 2, 2017).

[8] “Japan’s Missed Opportunity to Support LGBT Children,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 27, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/04/27/japans-missed-opportunity-support-lg....

[9] Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, “Section 9: Physical Education,” http://www.mext.go.jp/component/a_menu/education/micro_detail/__icsFiles... (accessed November 2, 2017).

[10] Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, “Section 7: Health and Physical Education,” http://www.mext.go.jp/component/a_menu/education/micro_detail/__icsFiles... (accessed November 2, 2017).

[11] Human Rights Watch, “The Nail That Sticks Out Gets Hammered Down”: LGBT Bullying and Exclusion in Japanese Schools, May 5, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/05/05/nail-sticks-out-gets-hammered-down....

[12] Safe Schools Declaration, May 28, 2015, https://www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/departementene/ud/vedlegg/utvikl... (accessed November 2, 2017).

[13] Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_... (accessed November 2, 2017).

[14] Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations, “Statement by H. E. Ambassador Yoshifumi Okamura Deputy Permanent Representative of Japan to the United Nations,” June 18, 2015, http://www.un.emb-japan.go.jp/statements/okamura061815.html (accessed November 2, 2017).

[15] UN Security Council, "Issuing Presidential Statement, Security Council Expresses Deep Concern over Scale, Severity of Violations against Children in Armed Conflict," October 31, 2017, https://www.un.org/press/en/2017/sc13050.doc.htm (accessed November 8, 2017).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Israeli border police arresting Ahmad Abu Sbitan, 11, in front of his school in East Jerusalem. The police accused him of throwing a stone at them.

© Majd Gaith

Israeli soldiers arrested Ahmed, 16, in the West Bank city of Hebron last year. He said the soldiers blindfolded and handcuffed him and took him to a police station in a settlement, where he was made to sit outside on the ground for about five hours. At around 12:30 a.m., he was interrogated and accused of having a knife, which he denied. Interrogators refused his request to have his father present. He was taken to a military compound, where six or seven soldiers made him lie down and started kicking and hitting him, then forced the boy to spend the night in the cold courtyard, giving him only water and a slice of cheese. After six more days in detention, he was released without charge.

Ahmed’s ordeal has become the norm for many Palestinian children in the West Bank living under Israel’s repressive military occupation. Every year, hundreds of children are subjected to a system of juvenile justice that is violent and discriminatory.

In the West Bank, the Israeli military applies harsh rules to Palestinian children and tries them in military courts, which have a near-100 percent conviction rate.  Settler children living in the same territory are instead subject to Israel’s civil laws and courts.

With US funds providing 18.5 percent of Israel’s annual defense budget, the US has the leverage to change those practices, if only it would use it.  And there’s no getting away from the risk that US military aid – US$127.4 billion over the decades – may be underwriting unlawful Israeli practices. 

If Israeli soldiers suspect a Palestinian child of throwing a rock at a settler’s car, they may, under the rules they apply, raid his home in the middle of the night, drag him out of bed, and keep him awake for hours for interrogation without allowing him to call a parent to say where he is. Interrogators often pressure the child to sign the record of his interrogation, written in Hebrew, which most Palestinian children do not understand. And the rules permit security officials to hold him for up to four days without taking him before a judge.

But if an Israeli child living in a West Bank settlement throws a rock at a Palestinian car, he is legally protected from being interrogated at night by Israeli police, and can have a parent present at the interrogation. The police must notify Israel’s Public Defense Office of the arrest and cannot interrogate the child before the office responds, unlike in the case of a Palestinian child. Israeli authorities can hold him for at most 24 hours before taking him before a judge.

This discriminatory system is violently enforced. The majority of Palestinian children arrested by Israeli forces say that they are subjected to abuse, according to Military Court Watch, a rights group – often blindfolded with their hands tied painfully, physically abused, threatened, deprived of sleep, and strip searched. Children as young as 11 have described to me how Israeli police or soldiers put them in chokeholds, and kicked, threatened, and left them outside for hours in cold weather. Children said they urinated on themselves in fear during their arrest, and had nightmares about their detention later.

Defense for Children International Palestine, a rights group, interviewed 429 children detained between 2012 and 2015, and found that three-quarters of them suffered physical violence. Two Israeli rights groups, B’Tselem and HaMoked, recently concluded that even in East Jerusalem, where Israeli laws rather than military laws apply, ill-treatment is “the primary mode of conduct adopted by the State of Israel for dealing with boys who are suspected of stone throwing.” Police subjected one boy to a 12-hour interrogation during which they said they would not give him food or water or allow him to go to the bathroom unless he confessed, the rights groups reported.

Nothing short of serious pressure is likely to end abuses that a 2013 UNICEF report found to be “widespread, systematic and institutionalized.” Israel half-heartedly implemented a few reforms, like a “pilot” program in 2014 of issuing summonses instead of terrifying nighttime arrests. But Israel limited the program to two West Bank areas and repeatedly suspended it, citing “the security escalation.” Most summonses were delivered to children during night raids by armed forces – causing the same fear that the program was supposed to avoid.

A bill proposed yesterday by Representative Betty McCollum of Minnesota would require the secretary of state to certify that US funds are not supporting Israeli security forces that harm Palestinian children. Any legislation that could touch aid to Israel faces a steep uphill battle, but at the very least, McCollum’s bill is an opportunity for the US to start taking seriously its own contribution to the human rights abuses through which Israel has maintained its 50-year-long occupation of Palestinian lands, and pressing for those abuses to end. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Members of Brazil´s Chamber of Deputies should think of Luan Gabriel de Souza´s death when they vote, in the next few weeks, on a bill (PL 4,471/2012) that could improve investigations of killings by police.

Luan Gabriel de Souza. Photo courtesy of Luan´s family.

© De Souza family/2017

Luan was a rail-thin 14-year-old who was scared of the cockroaches in Parque João Ramalho, a poor neighborhood in São Paulo´s metropolitan area where he lived, and where cockroaches are plentiful. A good student, Luan was well-liked by his teachers and dreamed of being a doctor. His mother, a cook at a hospital, promised him she would do her best to save up for his college tuition.

Luan’s father had died in 2012, and his 23-year-old brother, Lucas, had stepped up to care for him. “I am a father for him. He is like my brother and my son,” Lucas told me, in the present tense, as if Luan’s death had not sunk in.

Luan and Lucas were inseparable.

Last Saturday was the first time Luan slept away from home, at his best friend´s house. On Sunday, Luan and his friend went to buy a snack at a nearby store. On their way back through an alley, they stopped to say happy birthday to a boy who was turning 15. About eight other children were there.

As they were standing there, at around 3 pm, Alécio José de Souza, a military police officer, appeared at the end of the alley and fired three shots, according to witnesses. One hit Luan in the neck, and he died in the alley.

Lucas ran to the scene when he learned of the shooting, he told me. He saw the police officers move a motorcycle that turned out to have been stolen close to his brother´s body, to incriminate him. A witness told him the officers had turned the body face up, so it would not be immediately evident that Luan had been shot from behind.

The officers did not let Lucas or his mother identify the body. “It isn´t your son, go home,” they told his mother, Lucas recalled. They went up to the second floor of a neighbor´s house, where they could see the scene. A gust of wind raised the plastic over the corpse, and they recognized the shoes.

Luan Gabriel de Souza´s body lies in the alley where he was shot on November 5, 2017. Photo courtesy of Luan´s family.

© De Souza family/2017

At the civil police station, De Souza and his partner offered their version of events. They said they had seen people dismantling a stolen motorcycle they were looking for, and chased them, according to the police report. They said De Souza only fired his three shots after a 20-year-old man fired a .38-caliber gun at the officers. But De Souza’s partner never fired his weapon. A witness told Human Rights Watch the partner stayed in the car, a fact not mentioned in the report. The civil police, who were responsible for investigating the incident, did not interview the officers separately.

No gun was ever found. Police briefly detained a 21-year-old and a 18-year-old, but they let them go for lack of any evidence against them.

Two witnesses later told a reporter that the military police officers threatened to beat them if they offered details that incriminated the officers in Luan’s  killing.

Lucas went to the civil police station at around 7:30 pm on the day of the killing, he said. At that time the military police officers were still inside, giving their statements, according to the police report. But the civil police refused to interview Lucas. They told him to come back the next day.

The civil police registered the killing as “resistance and homicide during a police operation.”

The killing of Luan is exceptional not because of the glaring evidence of a police cover-up but because a lawyer representing a state human rights agency went to the news media. Human Rights Watch has documented scores of similar cases during the past decade—cases in which police officers in Brazil’s slums illegally use lethal force, and then cover it up.

The only way to end such practices is through prompt, thorough and impartial investigations, and a commitment from prosecutors that they won’t let police officers off the hook. The bill before Congress is important in that it would obligate police to give the family of the deceased a copy of the coroner’s report. It would also require them to inform public defenders and prosecutors of a police killing immediately.

The involvement of prosecutors from the very beginning is crucial in such cases, as the first hours and days are key to collecting enough evidence for a successful investigation. Today in Brazil, prosecutors typically learn of a police killing ridiculously late—30 days or more after the fact, prosecutors told Human Rights Watch.

The bill also reinforces procedures that the police should be performing but often do not, such as taking photographs of the body and conducting forensic analysis at the scene of the crime.

Police killed 4,224 people in 2016 in Brazil. Some of those killings were the result of acts of legitimate defense by police, but too many were not.

We do not even know the names of all those killed. But we know Luan´s.

Members of Congress should honor Luan by approving the bill.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

People participate in the SlutWalk protest on Copacabana Beach, where pope Francis will celebrate mass at night, in Rio de Janeiro, July, 2013. The sign reads "No more criminalization of women, abortion is a right." 

© REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

Hundreds of women have died in Brazil from unsafe abortion in recent years. Yet on Wednesday evening, 18 members of a committee in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies – all men – voted in favor of a dangerous new constitutional amendment that, if enacted, could drive those numbers higher. The only vote against was a woman’s.

The new amendment would prohibit abortion under any circumstances. The current law in Brazil allows abortion if the life of the woman is at risk, if the pregnancy resulted from rape, or if the fetus has anencephaly – a fatal congenital brain disorder.

The amendment would need super-majority votes in both houses of Congress. But if it passes, women and girls who do not wish to continue their pregnancies because it threatens their health or resulted from rape will either be forced to continue those pregnancies against their will, or will resort to terminating them clandestinely. In many situations, both choices could mean risking their health and lives. The latter could mean possible prison sentences for making fundamental decisions about their health.

My colleagues and I interviewed nearly 100 women and girls in Brazil for a recent report on the impacts of the Zika epidemic. Many had unplanned pregnancies and said they felt desperate. Doctors told us they had treated women in the last year with serious health complications from risky and ineffective abortion methods.

Two cases before the Supreme Court could expand access to safe and legal abortion. Brazil’s Congress, which is moving in the opposite direction, should avoid the path of countries with complete abortion bans, such as Nicaragua.

Two weeks ago, I met with activists in Nicaragua, who told me how – in a country with high rates of domestic and sexual violence – adolescent girls, survivors of rape, and poor women are the ones who suffer most from the abortion ban. They described the cruelty of forcing women and girls to continue pregnancies that resulted from rape, or carry to term pregnancies when there is no hope the fetus could survive outside the womb.

Brazil’s Congress should protect women’s health and rights and reject this inhumane proposal.



Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

California State Capitol Building. On October 15, 2017, California Governor, Jerry Brown, signed the Gender Recognition Act into law. 

©2012 Asilvero/Wikimedia

The Gender Recognition Act, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law on Oct. 15, puts California in the lead nationally in legal recognition for nonbinary genders. The bill opens the door for additional regulation that will protect the hundreds of intersex babies born in the state each year.

The new law allows the designation of a third gender on birth certificates. It notes that “‘intersex’ is an umbrella term used to describe natural bodily variations, which can include external genitalia, internal sex organs, chromosomes, or hormonal differences that transcend typical ideas of male and female” and that as many as 1.7 percent of people have an intersex trait.

Once called “hermaphrodites” — a term now considered pejorative and outdated — intersex people are not rare, although their medical needs are widely misunderstood. Based on a medical theory popularized in the 1960s at Johns Hopkins, a small subset of doctors continue to perform surgery on intersex children — often in infancy — with the stated aim of making it easier for them to grow up “normal.” But as clinical data and our recent research for Human Rights Watch showed, the results are often catastrophic, the supposed benefits are largely unproven, and these babies are usually born perfectly healthy, meaning there are rarely urgent health considerations requiring immediate, irreversible intervention.

One of the many risks of surgery is assigning the wrong sex, which the new California law addresses by allowing people to change their birth certificates without undergoing any medical procedures.

But there are other risks, too — including incontinence, scarring, lack of sensation, and psychological trauma. Nerves that are severed cannot regrow, scar tissue can limit options for future surgery, and the removal of gonads in an infant means that the child requires lifelong hormone replacement therapy to grow and stay healthy.

Patient advocates have worked with the medical community for 25 years to develop standards of care — but the medical establishment, despite a decades-long controversy and some brave physician voices, has by and large failed to regulate the practice. Gender clinics in California and around the country understand that transgender children often greatly benefit from counseling prior to reversible interventions, only offering surgery as an option when they come of age. But in many cases, these same clinics are conducting sex assignment surgery on intersex children before they can even speak or stand.

California’s new law reflects this reality, noting that “some children born with intersex traits have been subjected to involuntary and medically unnecessary surgical procedures in infancy in an attempt to erase aspects of their natural bodies, causing significant physical and psychological harm.”

The next step is for authorities to step in and draw a hard line, with regulations, so that absent medical necessity, no surgery on the gonads, internal, or external sex organs of an intersex child will be performed until that person is old enough to understand the risks and benefits, and provide informed consent. Some advocates have argued that existing federal and state laws banning female genital mutilation, or statutes forbidding sterilization of a minor without demonstrated medical necessity, could be used to regulate some of these surgeries. There are also questions of why insurers are paying for procedures that have no proven medical benefits, and that U.N. human rights experts say amounts in some cases to a form of ill-treatment or torture.

U.N. child and health-rights experts, the World Health Organization, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights, major American lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender legal groups, three former U.S. surgeons-general, the American Medical Association Board of Trustees, and the largest U.S. support group for intersex children have all called for an end to medically unnecessary nonconsensual surgery on intersex children.

California has taken a positive step by introducing a third option on birth certificates. The authorities should take the next obvious step and guarantee intersex children the chance to grow unharmed by those who are entrusted with keeping them healthy.

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Turks Head Surgery Center, where urologist Dr. Ilene Wong spoke to Human Rights Watch about shortcomings in providing care to patients with differences in sex development (DSD) and their families. The North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology also expressed concern about DSD care in a new position statement released in November 2017. 

©2017 Human Rights Watch.

(New York, November 8, 2017) – A new position statement by the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology represents a significant step toward ending medically unnecessary surgery on intersex children who are too young to consent, Human Rights Watch and interACT Advocates for Intersex Youth said today. The statement urged respect for the autonomy of intersex children and for their active participation in decisions about surgical procedures. The statement was endorsed by the Pediatric Endocrine Society, another major medical professional association. 

Since the 1960s, doctors in the United States and around the world have routinely performed surgery on intersex infants and children – born with chromosomes, gonads, or genitalia that do not correspond to traditional notions of “male” or “female” – to assign them a sex or “normalize” their bodies. These surgeries on children with intersex traits (sometimes called Differences of Sex Development or DSD) are medically unnecessary, irreversible, often traumatizing, and carry a risk of lifelong harm.

“Endocrinologists and gynecologists are critical to intersex health care, and their support for an end to unnecessary and high-risk surgery on children too young to consent is a major step,” said Kimberly Zieselman, executive director of interACT. “These children and their families need psycho-social and peer support, and lifelong expert health care – not early unnecessary surgeries that irrevocably impact their sexual and reproductive function.”

The position statement reads:

We believe in respecting the autonomy of the individual patient as well as providing ample support and guidance for the patient and family. All parents and affected patients should be actively encouraged to seek psychological counseling and peer support given the stress, confusion, and isolation that many experience. We believe that surgery alone does not address all the implications associated with DSD conditions. Some DSD conditions require early surgical intervention to optimize health and fertility. Ideally, if surgical interventions could be safely delayed, patients would have time to express their gender identity and to be actively involved in the decision making process. True informed consent or assent includes an accurate discussion of the options, benefits, known short and long term complications, expected pain and recovery, as well as need for reoperation. Finally, we believe that if there is a possibility for fertility, that this should be preserved and optimized.

Despite decades of controversy, doctors in the US and around the world continue to operate on intersex children’s gonads, internal sex organs, and genitals when the children are too young to participate in the decision. The results are often catastrophic and the supposed benefits largely unproven. While certain surgical interventions on intersex children are undisputedly medically necessary, some surgeons perform risky and medically unnecessary cosmetic surgery on intersex children, often before they are even able to talk.

Medical protocols have evolved over the past two decades. The use of multi-disciplinary teams, including endocrinologists, gynecologists, urologists, and psychologists to work on intersex (or DSD) cases is increasingly common. However, the field remains fraught with uneven, inadequate, and piecemeal standards of care. The position statement from the North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology and the support from the Pediatric Endocrine Society is an important standard-setting step, Human Rights Watch and interACT said.

Medically unnecessary surgery on intersex children has been condemned by the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association board of trustees, three former US surgeons-general (including one who was a pediatric endocrinologist), Physicians for Human Rights, the AIS-DSD Support Group (the largest US community support group for people and families affected by intersex conditions), Amnesty International, United Nations experts on children’s, disability, women’s, and health rights, Lambda Legal, the ACLU LGBT Rights Project, Human Rights Watch, and intersex-led organizations around the world.

“Clear support for shared decision-making about surgery between doctors and intersex people themselves, as these two top pediatric medical associations have now endorsed, is the path forward for modern medicine,” said Kyle Knight, researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Deferring medically unnecessary surgery, as recommended by every human rights organization to have considered this issue, should be the norm rather than the exception for intersex children.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

We write in advance of the pre-sessional working group for the 79th session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to share research by Human Rights Watch that we hope the Committee will use in its review of Saudi Arabia’s compliance with the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

Killings of Children in Armed Conflict

As the leader of a coalition of states that began military operations against the Houthis and allied forces in Yemen in March 2015, Saudi Arabia has committed numerous violations of international humanitarian law, including unlawful attacks that have killed and maimed children.

By September 2017, more than 5,144 civilians, including many children, had been killed and 8,749 wounded since March 2015, with airstrikes the single largest cause of civilian casualties, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).[1]

Since March 2015, Human Rights Watch has documented 87 apparently unlawful attacks by the Saudi-led coalition, some of which may amount to war crimes. These attacks killed nearly 1,000 civilians including more than 200 children, and hit homes, markets, hospitals, schools, and mosques.

For example, between June and September 2017, Human Rights Watch documented six apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes in Yemen that killed 33 children among 55 civilian deaths.[2] A June 4 attack on a home in Sanaa, the capital, killed four civilians, including three children, and wounded eight others, including three more children. A coalition airstrike on July 3 hit a home in Taizz, killing eight of Mohammed Hulbi’s relatives, including his wife and 8-year-old daughter. An airstrike on July 18 in a contested area of Taizz killed 14 family members, including nine children. An attack hitting a grocery store the same day killed four civilians, including two children. On August 4, coalition aircraft struck a home in Saada, killing nine members of the al-Dhurafi family, including six children, ages 3 through 12. The coalition denied targeting the house, but said it was looking into the “unfortunate incident.”[3]

Human Rights Watch also documented coalition airstrikes on August 25, 2017, that struck three apartment buildings in Faj Attan, a densely populated neighborhood of Sanaa, which killed 16 civilians, including at least five children, and wounded 17.[4] As the airstrikes began, Ali al-Raymi, a 32-year-old Ministry of Oil and Minerals employee received a text message from his younger brother, who had moved to Faj Attan with his wife and six children six months earlier. His brother texted that the sounds of the first attacks terrified his children, but then stopped sending messages. “I … started calling my brother,” al Raymi said. “He was not answering. I called him many times, but the phone was ringing and there was no answer.” Al-Raymi immediately walked to the area, which was so chaotic and the devastation so complete that he could not tell which home was his brother’s. He went to the spot where the house should be. “It was rubble,” al-Raymi said. “I told [another brother] not to call our mother.”

The airstrike killed al-Raymi’s brother, his sister-in-law, five of their six children, ages 2 through 10, and his sister-in-law’s brother. Only the family’s six-year-old daughter survived. Al-Raymi stayed to help with the rescue effort. The rescuers found his brother’s body last, after more than 14 hours of continuous searching.

After an international outcry, the coalition admitted carrying out the attack, but, as in previous apparently unlawful airstrikes, did not provide details on the coalition members joining the attack or the countries undertaking any investigation.

In addition to the Faj Attan strikes, by October, the Saudi-led coalition had announced findings of preliminary investigations into about 40 other coalition airstrikes. The coalition-appointed panel of investigators found in almost all cases that the coalition was pursuing a legitimate military target. In a few cases, the coalition recommended compensation for victims without explicitly acknowledging wrongdoing. To date, Human Rights Watch is unaware of any steps taken by Saudi Arabia to pay compensation or to hold individuals accountable for potential war crimes.[5]

On June 6, 2016, then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon removed the Saudi-led coalition from the annual “list of shame” annexed to his published 2016 annual report to the UN Security Council on children and armed conflict, “pending the conclusions of [a] joint review” of the cases and numbers included in the text.[6] The media reported that Saudi Arabia and its allies had threatened to withdraw hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance to the UN if the coalition was not removed from the list.[7] After months of controversy, in October 2017, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres returned the Saudi-coalition to the “list of shame.” The UN report noted that Saudi Arabia had made pledges to minimize grave violations against children, but found nonetheless that coalition airstrikes had caused more than half of all child casualties recorded in 2016—killing at least 349 children and wounding another 334. Coalition airstrikes had also struck or damaged 38 schools and 10 hospitals that year, according to the UN.[8]

Blocking Humanitarian Access

Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East before the war, is enduring the world’s largest humanitarian crisis. The Saudi-led coalition’s restrictions on imports to Yemen have worsened the dire humanitarian situation of Yemeni civilians including children. Restrictions in violation of international humanitarian law have delayed and diverted fuel tankers, closed a port receiving goods, and stopped life-saving goods for the population from entering seaports controlled by opposing Houthi-Saleh forces.[9]

Malnutrition and disease, to which children are particularly susceptible, are widespread in Yemen. An estimated 1.8 million children are acutely malnourished.[10] Half the country’s hospitals are closed, 15.7 million people lack access to clean water, and the country has over 700,000 suspected cholera infections, increasing by about 5,000 cases daily. From late April to mid-August 2017, nearly 500 children died and 200,000 fell ill from cholera, a disease spread by contaminated water.[11]

Under international humanitarian law, parties to an armed conflict may impose naval blockades to prevent arms and materiel from reaching enemy forces. Goods such as food, fuel, and medicines destined for civilians can be inspected but not excessively delayed. The blockading force must publish a list of contraband items, but the coalition has not done so.

Fuel–now often unavailable in areas under control of both sides–is needed to run the generators that most of Yemen depends on for electricity. The lack of fuel makes it more difficult to pump clean water, run hospital equipment, and safely store vaccines, aid officials said.[12] The coalition closure of the fuel port of Ras Isa in June 2017 has significantly curtailed fuel deliveries.[13]

Human Rights Watch documented seven cases since May 2017 in which the coalition arbitrarily diverted or delayed fuel tankers headed for ports under Houthi-Saleh control. In one case, the coalition held a ship carrying fuel in a Saudi port for more than five months and had not responded to the shipping company’s requests for an explanation. The oil cargo had to be unloaded in a Saudi port without compensation and crew members needing medical treatment could not leave the ship.[14]

Houthi-Saleh forces, who control the capital and much of the country, have also violated international legal obligations to facilitate humanitarian aid to civilians and significantly harmed the civilian population. They have blocked and confiscated aid, denied access to populations in need, and restricted the movement of ill civilians and aid workers.[15]

Since May 2017, the Saudi-led coalition has also blocked or restricted access of international media and human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, from parts of Yemen under Houthi-Saleh control by interfering with and impeding their ability to use UN flights.

Human Rights Watch recommends to the Committee that it ask Saudi Arabia:

  1. The coalition’s preliminary investigations by its Joint Incidents Assessment Team (JIAT) of certain airstrikes does not relieve the Saudi government of the obligation to investigate possibly unlawful strikes in which its forces were involved. Has Saudi Arabia, either independently or through JIAT, investigated any coalition attacks in which Saudi forces participated? If so, please share information on the date and location of the attacks investigated and the conclusions reached.
  2. Has Saudi Arabia begun investigations, disciplinary actions, or prosecutions against any Saudi military personnel implicated in possible war crimes in Yemen, including as a matter of command responsibility?
  3. Consistent with Common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, to which Saudi Arabia is a party, states not only have an obligation to abide by the laws of war, they must also ensure respect for the laws of war by using their influence, to the degree possible, to stop all laws-of-war violations. They are responsible not only for violations by their own armed forces, but also for those committed by forces acting under their instructions, directions or control. What steps, if any, has Saudi Arabia taken to ensure its coalition partners to comply with the laws of war in Yemen, and what reforms, if any, have been carried out as a result of repeated allegations that coalition forces are violating the laws of war in Yemen?
  4. To what extent does Saudi Arabia currently cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council Group of Experts on Yemen, the UN Security Council Panel of Experts on Yemen, and the Yemeni National Commission in their inquiries into alleged unlawful attacks in Yemen?
  5. Is the Saudi government collecting information on the strikes in which Saudi forces participated and for which there are credible allegations of laws-of-war violations in Yemen? If not, why not?
  6. Has Saudi Arabia taken any steps, to date, to hold to account any Saudi military personnel credibly implicated in war crimes or others within its jurisdiction? If so, please provide information on the types of disciplinary proceedings, the results of each and the numbers of individuals disciplined. If Saudi Arabia has not taken any steps to hold member of its armed forces or others committing war crimes on its territory accountable, why not? 
  7. Has Saudi Arabia taken any steps to provide redress to civilian victims or their families, including providing compensation for wrongful deaths and injuries? If so, please provide details on the amount of compensation paid, to how many people, when and for what violations. If not, why not?

Human Rights Watch asks the Committee to call upon Saudi Arabia to:

  1. Take steps to ensure that all Saudi forces and forces under Saudi control are abiding by the laws of war, including prohibitions on attacks that target civilians or cause disproportionate civilian loss, or fail to discriminate between civilians and combatants.
  2. Urge all coalition members to abide by the laws of war, including prohibitions on attacks that target civilians or cause disproportionate civilian loss, or fail to discriminate between civilians and combatants.
  3. Publish a list of contraband items and cease unnecessary delays in inspecting ships carrying non-contraband civilian items for import to areas of Yemen under Houthi-Saleh control.
  4. Immediately release information on any strikes in which Saudi forces participated and for which there are credible allegations of laws-of-war violations. If Saudi Arabia is not collecting this information, the government should immediately begin do so.
  5. Impartially investigate and publicly report the findings of any incident in which Saudi forces participated that raised possible laws-of-war obligations, including those where children were killed or maimed. In carrying out investigations, Saudi Arabia should make full use of the investigatory tools available, including military intelligence, operational information and targeting videos. The government should also make efforts to obtain information from the target site as possible. The public findings of investigations should include an explanation of what accountability measures Saudi Arabia has taken, including disciplinary action and criminal prosecutions, the redress provided to civilian victims or their families, and the process through which accountability or redress was determined to be necessary or not.
  6. Hold to account any Saudi military personnel or others within Saudi jurisdiction credibly implicated in war crimes.
  7. Provide redress to civilian victims or their families, including providing compensation for wrongful deaths and injuries. Ex gratia (“condolence”) payments should be considered in the event of civilian harm but without a finding of wrongdoing. Saudi Arabia should publish information in English and Arabic on how individuals can present claims for compensation.
  8. Endorse the “Safe Schools Declaration,” an inter-governmental political commitment to protect students, teachers, schools, and universities from attack during times of war, including by minimizing the use of schools for military purposes, restoring access to education if schools are attacked, and investigating and prosecuting war crimes involving schools
  9. Cooperate with those researching and documenting violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in Yemen, including the UN Human Rights Council Group of Experts, the UN Security Council Panel of Experts, and Yemeni National Commission, and allow international rights groups and media organizations to enter Yemen without interference, including by way of UN flights.

[1] “Yemen: An “entirely man-made catastrophe” – UN human rights report urges international investigation,” United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHRHC), September 5, 2017, http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22025&LangID=E (accessed October 24, 2017). 

[2] “Yemen: Hiding Behind Coalition’s Unlawful Attacks,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 8, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/08/yemen-hiding-behind-coalitions-unlawful-attacks; “Yemen: Coalition Airstrikes Deadly for Children,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 12, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/12/yemen-coalition-airstrikes-deadly-children.

[3] “Yemen: Coalition Airstrikes Deadly for Children,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 12, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/12/yemen-coalition-airstrikes-deadly-children.

[4] “Yemen: Hiding Behind Coalition’s Unlawful Attacks,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 8, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/08/yemen-hiding-behind-coalitions-unlawful-attacks.

[5] Human Rights Watch, “Letter to Saudi-Led Coalition Joint Incidents Assessment Team Regarding Yemen Investigations,” January 13, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/01/16/letter-saudi-led-coalition-joint-incidents-assessment-team-regarding-yemen.

[6] “UN: Return Saudi-led Coalition to ‘List of Shame’,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 8, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/06/08/un-return-saudi-led-coalition-list-shame.

[7] Ibid.

[8] United Nations Security Council, “Children and Armed Conflict, Report of the Secretary General,” A/72/361–S/2017/821, August 24, 2017, http://undocs.org/A/72/361 (accessed October 24, 2017).

[9] “Yemen: Coalition’s Blocking Aid, Fuel Endangers Civilians,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 27, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/27/yemen-coalitions-blocking-aid-fuel-endangers-civilians.

[10] United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Yemen Humanitarian Situation Report,” June 2017, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/unicef-yemen-humanitarian-situation-report-june-2017 (accessed October 24, 2017).

[11] UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “Yemen Humanitarian Bulletin, Issue 26,” August 14, 2017, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/yemen-humanitarian-bulletin-issue-26-14-august-2017-enar (accessed October 24, 2017).

[12] OCHA, “Yemen Humanitarian Bulletin, Issue 25,” July 16, 2017, https://reliefweb.int/report/yemen/yemen-humanitarian-bulletin-issue-25-16-july-2017-enar  (accessed October 24, 2017).

[13] “Yemen oil port fire from Saudi-led air strike kills at least nine,” Reuters, January 21, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-yemen-security-oil/yemen-oil-port-fire-from-saudi-led-air-strike-kills-at-least-nine-idUSKCN0UZ2NP (accessed October 24, 2017).

[14] “Yemen: Coalition’s Blocking Aid, Fuel Endangers Civilians,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 27, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/27/yemen-coalitions-blocking-aid-fuel-endangers-civilians.

[15] “Yemen: Coalition’s Blocking Aid, Fuel Endangers Civilians,” Human Rights Watch news release, September 27, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/09/27/yemen-coalitions-blocking-aid-fuel-endangers-civilians

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Unaccompanied children in the Calais migrant camp await interviews with the UK Home Office, October 22, 2016. 

© 2016 ZALMAÏ/Human Rights Watch

Tomorrow, UK parliamentarians will hold a much-needed debate on the situation of migrants and asylum seekers in Calais, one year after the demolition of the so-called “Jungle” camp.

The discussion is critical, because conditions in Calais remain grim. With winter looming, between 700 and 1,000 migrants continue to sleep in the open and rely heavily on distributions from humanitarian organizations to survive. The total includes at least 100 children like 17-year-old “Daniel”, an Ethiopian boy I interviewed in June. Bright and friendly, “Daniel” told me he’d had no dinner the previous day because he had to flee police spraying migrants with tear gas. Two days before, he said the police took his blankets and sleeping bag. He’d only had those blankets for one day.

Many of the migrants told similar stories – how police regularly spray them in the face with tear gas while they sleep, and spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets, clothing, and sometimes food and water. UNICEF and an independent investigation have recently warned that children in Calais are also at risk of sexual exploitation, violence, and trafficking. Last week, a French government investigation into our findings found them credible.

Tomorrow’s debate should focus on what Britain can – and should – do to help the children in Calais. Children remain in France even though they may be eligible to come to the UK under European asylum regulations based on family ties, a recent report found. There are legal channels to bring children from Calais to the UK, but even the family reunification process has been slow, arbitrary, and lacking in transparency. Last year, Human Rights Watch found that some children with UK family ties were not brought to the UK following the camp’s closure.

For children in Calais who do not have family in the UK, until February a humanitarian provision in UK immigration law known as the “Dubs Amendment”, gave the UK discretion to admit them if they were unaccompanied asylum seekers or refugees. However, the UK applied strict age and nationality criteria in implementing this provision, and closed admissions in February. In total, the UK eventually allowed 480 children to be brought to the UK under Dubs, all in 2016, from France, Italy, and Greece.

The UK can do better than this.

It’s time for the government to stand up and help these children. Reopening the Dubs scheme to help vulnerable children would be a welcome first step. Authorities should also make every effort to ensure that the family reunification process functions smoothly and swiftly.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Class in a juvenile facility in Franco da Rocha, Brazil.

© 2012 Eliel Nascimento/Fundação CASA

This week, the Brazilian Senate will consider a constitutional amendment that would allow prosecutors to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. In a country with high levels of violence such as Brazil, it’s tempting to think that harsher treatment will increase public security, but the evidence from other countries shows just the opposite.

The United States has most likely made the greatest use of measures like this proposal, and the results have been rigorously researched. The studies make for sobering reading.

Adolescents who are sent to the adult system are 34 percent more likely to be rearrested than those in the juvenile system, a comprehensive review by the Centers for Disease Control revealed.

If they’re housed in adult jails and prisons, they’re at increased risk of physical abuse, including sexual assault. Children under 18 are, thankfully, a minuscule proportion of inmates in US adult facilities. But one in five victims of substantiated incidents of inmate-on-inmate sexual violence was under 18, a 2008 study found.

Adolescents in the adult criminal system also face disruptions in social development, identity formation, learning, the development of key skills, and healthy transition to adulthood, other studies have shown. Because most of them will eventually return to their communities, these are profoundly negative consequences for society.

In recognizing these realities, US states have increasingly moved away from trying children as adults. In the last five years, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, New York, and South Carolina have all raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction to include 17-year-olds.

It hasn’t negatively affected public safety. On the contrary, youth crime fell in Connecticut and Illinois, the first of these states to end  trials of 17-year-olds as adults.

A review by the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission concluded that the juvenile justice system – which emphasizes rehabilitation – is the best system even for 17-year-olds accused of the most serious crimes.

These findings aren’t surprising, given what we now know about adolescent brain development. New research has shown that impulsivity, risk-taking, susceptibility to peer pressure, and a focus on immediate rewards with little regard for future consequences are hallmarks of adolescence.

This means the prospect of being charged as an adult has little, if any, deterrent effect. It also means that adolescents are particularly amenable to change.

Instead of replicating failed policies that harm children and society, Brazil’s lawmakers should invest in and improve Brazil’s current juvenile justice system

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission relates to Articles 28 and 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and focuses on the protection of students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict. It proposes issues and questions that Committee members may wish to raise with the government.

Niger in June 2015 endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, which outlines various commonsense actions that countries can take to reduce the negative consequences of armed conflict on education, including using the Guidelines on Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use with respect to protecting schools from military use.[1]

Also in June 2015, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2225 (2015) on children and armed conflict, which:

Expresses deep concern that the military use of schools in contravention of applicable international law may render schools legitimate targets of attack, thus endangering the safety of children and in this regard encourages Member States to take concrete measures to deter such use of schools by armed forces and armed groups.[2]

As of August 2017, Niger was contributing 975 troops and 18 staff officers to UN peacekeeping operations around the world. Such troops are required to comply with the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ United Nations Infantry Battalion Manual (2012), which includes the provision that “schools shall not be used by the military in their operations.”[3] The majority of Niger’s peacekeeping troops are deployed in the Central African Republic and Mali— two countries where the military use of schools has been documented as a problem.

Moreover, the new 2017 Child Protection Policy of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support, and Department of Political Affairs notes:

United Nations peace operations should refrain from all actions that impede children's access to education, including the use of school premises. This applies particularly to uniformed personnel. Furthermore, recognizing the adverse impact of the use of schools for military purposes, in particular its effects on the safety of children and education personnel, the civilian nature of schools, and the right to education, United Nations peace operations personnel shall at no time and for no amount of time use schools for military purposes.[4]

We note measures taken by the government of Niger in line with the Safe Schools Declaration to ensure the continuation of education, such as the delivery of alternative education via a radio program for children who cannot travel to school due to insecurity, the relocation of students from high-risk areas to temporary classrooms, and the provision of direct contact lines to school directors in insecure areas so that they may make an appeal for action if a threat develops. We also note preventive steps taken in line with the Safe Schools Declaration, such as raising awareness among teachers about the recruitment of children by armed groups, and risks linked to explosive devices.[5]

Human Rights Watch recommends to the Committee that it ask the government of Niger:

  • What steps has Niger taken in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2143 (2014) and 2225 (2015) to deter the use of schools for military purposes?
  • Are protections for schools from military use included in any policies, rules, or pre-deployment trainings for Niger’s armed forces?
  • What further steps has Niger taken to implement the commitments in the Safe Schools Declaration?

Human Rights Watch asks the Committee to:

  • Congratulate Niger for having endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, and for the steps taken to date to implement its commitments.
  • Call upon the government of Niger to take concrete measures to deter the military use of schools, including by bringing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict into domestic military policy and operational frameworks, as per the commitment made in the Safe Schools Declaration. 

[1] Safe Schools Declaration, https://www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/departementene/ud/vedlegg/utvikl... (accessed April 10, 2017); Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, March 18, 2014, http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/guidelines_... (accessed October 19, 2016).

[2] United Nations Security Council, Resolution 2225 (2015), S/RES/2225 (2015), http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/s_res_2225.pdf (accessed October 9, 2017), para 7.

[3] United Nations Infantry Battalion Manual, 2012, section 2.13, “Schools shall not be used by the military in their operations.”

[4] United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support and Department of Political Affairs, “Child Protection in UN Peace Operations (Policy),” June 2017.

[5] Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, “Report of the Addis Ababa workshop on strengthening the role of armed forces in the protection of education from attack and educational institutions from military use during armed conflict in Africa,” November 2016, http://www.protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/addis_ababa_workshop_gcpea_report_final.pdf (accessed October 7th, 2017).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am